“127 Hours” Survivor Aron Ralston Calls for Protection of Utah’s Greater Canyonlands

View of Canyonlands National Park from the Green River Overlook. The Greater Canyonlands area lies outside the National Park. (Photo/ Phil Armitage).

by Leia Larsen

In 2003, Aron Ralston became trapped while hiking alone in Utah’s Greater Canyonlands. A boulder had become dislodged, pinning Ralston’s right arm on a narrow canyon ledge. After six days, Ralston amputated his own hand and walked several miles to help.

Ralston’s trial became well known after it was portrayed in his book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” and the film “127 Hours.” Now a Boulder resident, Ralston recounted his experience with a packed audience at the Boulder Theater on Thursday night. He recounted how the near-death experience gave him a greater appreciation for life, love and family. Using this personal bond to the area, Ralston also used the event to promote protecting Utah’s desert wilderness and to lobby for designating the Greater Canyonlands as a national monument.

“President Obama, with a stroke of his pen, can do this,” Ralston said. “It’s supported by the people of Utah, it’s supported widely among the people who love and cherish the desert.”

Greater Canyonlands includes the redrock canyons, sandstone cliffs and desert landscapes surrounding Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. President Barak Obama can designate the area as a national monument through the American Antiquities Act of 1906.

President Herbert Hoover designated Arches National Monument in 1929 (Congress changed it to a national park in 1971). President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996.

The event’s sponsors, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and its Colorado affiliates, CU Wild and ColorUWild, hope political pressure from this year’s election will provide the motivation Obama needs to protect the area from threat.

“We just need to give him the political coverage and courage to make it happen,” Ralston said.

Ralston and interest groups highlight oil and gas development as a major threat to wilderness. And Ralston noted that this issue isn’t limited just to Utah. He’s also working to get a half-million acre area in Central Colorado protected as wilderness.

“These places, they’re under threat,” Ralston said, showing an aerial photograph pock-marked with oil and gas wells on Interstate 70 near Glenwood Canyon. “We don’t have to do this to every last place. Let it be in the interstate corridor, but I don’t want to see it out here,” Ralston said, switching to a photograph of Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon. “I take it personally.”

Bluejohn Canyon is where Ralston became trapped and nearly lost his life.

Ralston also discussed damage from rampant off-road vehicle use as a threat to wilderness.

“A couple of us going out on a four-wheeler to ride through a riparian area — you do untold damage,” Ralston said, showing photographs of vehicles driving through desert streams. “It’s not because people are bad for doing this. It’s because the management plans that allow this to happen don’t take into account how fragile the ecosystems are.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages nearly half of the entire state of Utah and the entire Greater Canyonlands area, is responsible for creating these management plans.

“I actually met Aron Ralston about a five years ago, his speech was so powerful,” said Boulder resident Angela McDevitt. “I think it’s great what he’s doing – giving his time for free … trying to protect the Greater Canyonlands. I hope it spreads like wildfire to people so we can save these places.”

McDevitt frequently visits the Moab area for hiking and mountain biking.

“It was amazing,” said Conor Pascale, a resident of Westminster. Pascale hasn’t visited the Greater Canyonlands area, but saw “127 Hours” and appreciated Ralston’s story. “I actually read about him in the newspaper before the movie came out … I just had to meet him in real life,” said Pascale.

Ralston suggested that concerned citizens petition federal and state representatives for protection of the Greater Canyonlands or volunteer to spread the word about the issue.

“This is what I’ve put on myself,” Ralston said. “For what it has given me, for what it has shown me, for what it has given all of us. This isn’t just my story; this is all of our stories.”

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